Ramblings: Injuries around the league; game recaps; Buchnevich – November 22

Michael Clifford

2019-11-22

 

For a second straight game, Claude Giroux was on Morgan Frost’s wing. When Frost was called up, I mused that this was (finally, for real this time) the end of Giroux as a centre. Maybe that will hold up.

James van Riemsdyk, by the way, started the game on the fourth line.

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I wanted to take the opportunity to watch the Flyers last night mostly because I wanted to watch Morgan Frost, and more importantly, how Frost would play with Claude Giroux on his wing. Hockey is a funny game and let me explain why.

This game saw the Flyers get generally outplayed by the Hurricanes, as is known to happen when teams play Carolina. The Giroux line, especially, often got dominated territorially, but you could see the individual skill on display on Frost’s short-handed goal, and in other scoring chances. Giroux did end up with four points (2+2), after all, and Frost by no means looks overwhelmed at the NHL level.

Basically, I think this is a line that can do very well in softer matchups, which is what’s going to often happen at home. When they’re on the road, though, it could be a tougher slog.

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New coach, new power play.

The Leafs ran a top unit of Tavares-Matthews-Nylander-Barrie-Rielly on Thursday night. I guess Barrie finally got his PP1 minutes, though Andreas Johnsson had to be sacrificed at the altar of running a 3F/2D man advantage.  

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Good news for Avs fans and Mikko Rantanen owners: the young star is still skating and looks to join the lineup “soon.”

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Kyle Turris was a healthy scratch again for the Predators. It seemed like he was playing well earlier in the season but coach Laviolette obviously doesn’t like his play of late. That contract… whew.

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Nikita Kucherov did not play on Thursday night in Chicago, following an upper-body injury earlier in the week. The top line was Palat-Point-Stamkos.

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Mika Zibanejad was back at practice for the Rangers, this time skating in a regular jersey. It appears he’s well on his way to returning to the lineup in short order. Hopefully he’s ready by the weekend for those out there playing in weekly leagues, so they can get him in next week.

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New Jersey has reunited Hall-Hischier-Palmieri both at five on five and on the power play. My fantasy teams hope these stay consistent. My better judgment tells me they won’t.

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Zach Werenski posted a pair of assists to go along with two shots and a block in Columbus’s 5-4 win over Detroit. That brings Werenski’s point streak to five games, and 13 points in 21 games overall. He’s back to a 50-point pace, which is about what we should expected from the talented young blue liner.

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Marchand had two goals and Pastrnak had one and the sun came up and then the sun went down.

We did get this save from Tuukka Rask, though:

 

 

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The Panthers fought back from a 4-0 deficit to win a crazy 5-4 game over the Ducks at home. That included two third-period goals and an overtime winner from Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad was a big star in this game fantasy-wise with two goals, one assist, three shots, two blocks, and a hit.  In real life, he’s really becoming the shutdown defenceman he was projected to be, it just took him a few years to get there.

Just a small FYI: Brett Connolly had a pair of goals and is now up to 10 goals in 21 games. I'm going to have to write about him soon because his mid-career surge is just incredible. 

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Nashville. Nashville got a lot of shot volume off – Jakob Markstrom made 45 saves on 48 shots – but giving up that many power plays is a recipe for disaster in the first place.

As you can probably guess, the top power-play unit did most of the damage:

  • Elias Pettersson – one goal, two assists, two shots
  • Brock Boeser – one goal, one assist, four shots, one block
  • Bo Horvat – one goal, one assist
  • J.T. Miller – one goal, one assist, two shots, two blocks
  • Quinn Hughes – three assists, two shots

Alex Edler had himself a very fine evening as well with one assist, two shots, seven blocks, and four penalty minutes.

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It was the Cale Maker show in Minnesota as he had a pair of goals, one being a beautiful toe-and-drag followed by the snap. He had five total shots, two blocks, and a hit to go along with it.

Makar is now up to 25 points in 22 games. Of course he’s over-heating but it’s obvious the elite-level skill and vision he possesses. Once that blue line matures and rounds itself out, oh boy.

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Wednesday night, Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and an assist in New York’s 4-1 win over Washington. Those two points gave him 17 points in 19 games on the season. Of course, this glosses over a pretty important fact from that game: Buchnevich was benched for basically the entire second half of the second period (he had one shift that lasted a grand total of 14 seconds). It wasn’t an injury; it was a benching.

This is a complicated issue, but I feel like it’s worth going over Buchnevich’s career, and where he sits this year.

The 2016-17 season was his rookie season, but it was only half the year. He showed very well, putting up 20 points in 41 games playing 13 minutes a night. While he wasn’t a 100 percent regular in the lineup, that’s to be kind of excused based on the quality of the forwards on that team. Buchnevich was a rookie, and they had guys like Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner, and Brandon Pirri all in the running – among many others – just for fourth-line minutes. So, him playing 13 minutes a game, and sometimes being scratched, is somewhat understandable.

Here’s the thing about all that being “somewhat understandable”: Buchnevich was arguably the team’s best forward that year, and certainly among the top-3. Just for a couple examples, he led the team in points per 60 minutes at five on five and had the second-highest rate of Goals Above Replacement (by Evolving Hockey). Yes, it was with sheltered minutes, but the fact that he showed extremely well playing down the lineup as a rookie was obviously a good sign. (GAR, by the way, measures the overall impact of a player based on offensive and defensive contributions, penalty differentials, and other factors.)

Buch’s 2017-18 season saw more games and more minutes. I’d like to say he kept improving, but it was kind of a down year for him with his points/60 declining, but still higher than teammates like J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello. He was also fifth among the team’s forward in GAR/60.

Remember that even in 2017-18, Buchnevich was frequently a fourth liner, and sometimes a health scratch. Again, this was a team that was deep up front, so I kind of get the lack of a significant role. They still had names like Hayes, Miller, Nash, Zuccarello, Vesey, and Grabner. That’s basically two full lines from two years ago that are now gone. So, while I didn’t agree whatsoever with Alain Vigneault’s usage of Buch in this season, I kind of understand it.

Moving to 2018-19, the rebuild was kicking in. Grabner was gone, Nash effectively retired, and some others would be traded throughout the year. This got Buchnevich more minutes, but not by much (about 40 extra seconds per game at five on five) and his overall TOI barely budged. Again, for the third year in a row, he played at least to a top-6 role by Goals Above Replacement but was not given top-6 minutes. Again, now in his third year and this time on a team that was losing forward depth, he was a healthy scratch in favour of Cody McLeod (a guy with 72 goals in 776 career games and who is no longer in the NHL). Press reports at the time say Buchnevich was struggling, which I believe, but even when Buch is struggling, he’s head-and-shoulders above McLeod as an effective NHLer.

It also helps establish that Buchnevich getting the short end of the stick isn’t a feature of one coach, but now multiple coaches. Also, even while struggling, he would end up fifth again among the team’s forwards in GAR/60, second among players who would still be on the roster at the end of the year, and first among right wingers. It seemed pretty obvious that, with the team in full rebuild mode, he was easily the best right winger on the roster.

At this point, we now have three years worth of data, so it’s worth looking at what those three years worth of data gives us.

From 2016-19, by GAR/60 minutes, Buchnevich came in a 0.383. For a reference here, that was higher than Kevin Hayes (0.361) and Derek Stepan (0.277). League-wide, among forwards with at least 2000 minutes played over those three seasons, he performed similarly to Mike Hoffman (0.385), Jakub Vrana (0.384), Max Domi (0.381), and Logan Couture (0.377). Again, he did this often in a sheltered role, but that often meant lower-quality line mates, too.

This isn’t to say Buch is a perfect player or anything. There are likely defensive issues here (though not nearly as bad as some Rangers coaches seem to think), and there are questions about being effective in transition:

 

 

But his ability to find teammates, and his own goal-scoring ability, is to be coveted. Also, as mentioned above, it’s worth noting his lack of talented line mates. Here are his two most-common line mates in his career, by season (via HockeyViz):

Other than Kreider, Buchnevich has largely been saddled with, let’s say, non-top-6 players. And even Kreider is better known for his two-way play and goal scoring than playmaking.

Now we get to 2019-20. The Rangers drafted Kakko, but Buchnevich is clearly the best right wing on this team. “Hey, look, Buch is even starting the year on the top line! Everything is going to be great! Now, if you’ll excuse me, Lucy is holding this football I have to go kick…”

It’s been better this year, largely because the team has no options outside of Kakko and Fast (and there have been times both have played ahead of Buch, one of those being Tuesday night). At time of writing, Buch leads the team in total GAR, even ahead of Artemi Panarin. On a per 60 rate, he’s sixth among forwards in the league, and he’s top-10 in total GAR. It’s been a superlative year. He was off to a fantastic start by literally any measure (old-school measures like points and plus/minus, or newer measures like GAR or relative xGF percentage), AND YET, David Quinn still found a reason to bench him.

I get it. Coaches are different. They have to work to win the game in front of them, and then work to win the next game in front of them. They don’t necessarily have to take the long view on things beyond player development. But that Buchnevich is sometimes planted on the third line, sometimes benched, and still can’t seem to earn the coach’s trust is just insanity. This is now two coaches where we have the same pattern of behaviour, and that says more about NHL coaches in general than it does Buchnevich.

Where it goes from here, who knows. Kakko is starting to heat up with four goals and seven points in his last six games, and Fast is effectively Quinn’s binky. There’s a world, coming real soon, where Buchnevich is a regular on the third line. There are few players I genuinely root for but Buch is a guy who constantly gets the short end of the stick, spanning multiple years and multiple coaches, and still produces good-to-great numbers. That’s a guy I will be rooting for.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency MTL Players
20.8% ARTTURI LEHKONEN NICK SUZUKI JORDAN WEAL
20.8% MAX DOMI BRENDAN GALLAGHER CHARLES HUDON
19.5% JOEL ARMIA PAUL BYRON PHILLIP DANAULT

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